Civil Rights Voting Rights

Prop 17 Could Restore Voting Rights to Tens of Thousands of Californians

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

by Maureen Washburn

Amid a national crisis over voter suppression, Californians are considering a historic expansion of the right to vote. Proposition 17, which will appear on the state’s November 3rd ballot, would grant voting rights to individuals on state parole.

Today, 55,000 Californians are on parole after having been released from prison. They are working, paying taxes, raising families, and contributing to their communities, yet are denied basic participation in our democracy.

Formerly incarcerated people face major hurdles as they reintegrate into society. It can be difficult to find a place to live, get a job, or reconnect with loved ones. Yet the experience of returning home provides a vital, firsthand perspective on some of the biggest issues facing California and the nation today: employment, affordable housing, law enforcement accountability, and mass incarceration. Excluding people on parole from the political process means silencing those with informed views and a direct stake in the decisions made in Washington D.C., Sacramento, and city halls across the state.

By denying voting rights to those on parole, the state has barred many Californians of color from the ballot box. Black people, in particular, are over-represented among California’s parole population—a reflection of the disparate harm the state’s justice system imposes on Black communities through over-policing and biased arrests, prosecutions, and sentences. In late 2016, 26 percent of people on parole were Black compared to 6 percent of California’s population. Restoring voting rights to those on parole would allow more Californians of color to cast a ballot and ensure that the state’s electorate better reflects its communities.

Research has shown that one consequence of mass incarceration is a frayed connection to civic life. People who have been imprisoned are less likely to trust government, believe it is acting on their behalf, and, as a result, participate in elections. This effect stems from their experiences in a system beset with injustices and racism. Opening up opportunities for formerly incarcerated Californians to vote removes one glaring unfairness in the reentry process, which could help to boost civic engagement—not just for those on parole, but also for the family members, friends, and neighbors who have seen the ripple effects of an unjust system.

In addition to restoring basic rights to thousands, Proposition 17 will streamline the state’s overly complicated voting laws. Current law allows individuals in jail to vote, but only if they are there for a misdemeanor offense, a felony jail sentence, because jail time is a condition of their probation, or they are awaiting trial. Excluded are those jailed for a parole violation or serving time in jail on a state prison sentence. Similarly, people in the community who are being supervised by a probation officer may vote, while those free on state parole may not. Confusion over who can vote reduces overall participation and further disempowers people impacted by the justice system.

America’s democratic ideals are facing unprecedented threats. Our upcoming Election Day could be marred by a disinformation campaign, widespread voter suppression, and blatant manipulation by foreign governments. Amid mounting pressures, California will have the opportunity to strengthen its democracy by aligning with the cause of transparent and inclusive elections. Giving voice to those returning from prison through Proposition 17 would bring California one step closer to making its government work for all.

Maureen Washburn, policy analyst, CJCJ

Author Maureen Washburn is a Policy Analyst at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in San Francisco. Recently, Washburn has co-authored reports on the fiscal impact of Proposition 20 and conditions in California’s Division of Juvenile Justice.

Top image by Element5 Digital courtesy of Unsplash


  • What about Proposition 18 whose language says, “Proposition 18 would allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in primary elections and special elections.”

    Why the change? The state is trying to do everything in it’s little beady eyed power to garner more votes and assert more influence of it’s will. Grasping for votes. Is it really necessary to change the voting age rules and deal with all the administrative upheaval that comes with it versus just leaving well enough alone and waite until a person is “officially 18 years old” before they can caste their vote? Seems like the ploy of a desperate party seeking to get more votes.

    If the state lawmakers and justice rights advocates feel that children are so naive, innocent and incapable, committung crimes or being held responsible for their actions the sudden the reversal to believe a 17 year old is capable and responsible enough to vote? A better ballot initiate would be to lower the age of legal adulthood to 17. This would make everything much easier and cleaner and not have the stink of politics written all over it. If you can vote you should get all the rights, privileges, consequences and responsibilities that come with being an adult. It’s only fair.

    Our ridiculous state law makers and governor doing “the people’s work”…Ha.. ha…ha. SMH.

  • Why the change?

    Simple. There have been generations of liberal indoctrination of our children in the school system. It’s time for those in power to reap the benefits of their efforts.

  • First of all, let’s get straight to the point. The author of this article, Maureen Washburn, whose claim to fame is a “Policy Analyst,” is a bunch of BS!!

    If Maureen were really an “analyst” she would delve deeply into the underlying reasons as to why there is a proposition on the Nov. 3rd ballot, which will allow parolees to vote.

    Further, Maureen goes on to state, “By denying voting rights to those on parole, the state has barred many Californians of color from the ballot box. Black people…” Maureen, so are you stating that the majority of parolees are Black? There are no Whites, Latinos, Asians, American Indians etc., which are also on parole? Or did you just decide to throw in the race card, to make this an emotional article, to rile up the masses?

    Maureen, if you were a true journalist, with integrity and principles, while also doing a deep dive into this so called proposition, you would write an article that truly defines the meaning of this proposition. This is just another BS ploy by the LibTurds to try to increase their voter base.

    The LibTurds have NOTHING to offer the average working, middle class voter. They are being decimated by the current administration, by being exposed for what they truly are, a bunch of power hungry, do nothing, corrupt POS! Who want nothing more than to tax the sh*t out of us, while also funding pipe dreams (i.e., Green Deal). These “pipe dreams” are in essence a vehicle for corrupt politicians to line their personal pockets.

    Maureen, since you consider yourself an “analyst,” why don’t you research the so called “wildfires” in California. I’ll help you out. What is the average amount of fires in CA? During what time frame do these fires occur? What is the median? Are these fires in line with the median? Or are they outliers?

    Why did Peloski try to push a stimulus package of $2.1 trillion dollars? Could it be that within that package there was money allocated to CA to cover/eliminate its heavy debt? Since the Fed has stopped funding CA for its sanctuary city status, how can CA recoup some of that money? By declaring a state of emergency?

    Maureen, maybe you should invest your time into worthwhile relevant issues, rather than trying to run cover up stories for your LibTurd handlers.

  • They are being decimated by the current administration, by being exposed for what they truly are, a bunch of power hungry, do nothing, corrupt POS! Who want nothing more than to tax the sh*t out of us, while also funding pipe dreams (i.e., Green Deal).

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